Tomorrow night, one AFL player will be crowned the best and fairest player of the year – the highest individual accolade awarded in Australian Rules Football. Apart from 2017 I could not tell you who has won in previous years – and yet this is the highest award in the game and as you know I really enjoy watching football. Next Saturday one team, either Melbourne or Western Bulldogs will be the toast of the town as they are crowned Premiers for 2021 But how long does that last? For the team that loses next Saturday, the emotions of losing are completely opposite to the jubilation they experienced last week as they won their way into the Grand Final.
Coming 2nd is sometimes worse than coming last because you judge yourself – if only I had put in that little bit more.
Or think of the sportsperson who got silver in the Olympics by only a fraction of the second and the anguish – if only.
It’s probably harder coming 2nd than third. Or spare a thought for the one who came in 4th – Fourth best in the world in that sport and they get nothing. And yet this is our constant temptation – to want to be the best. Wanting to be the best is very different to wanting to be the best we can. I’m sure God would want that too – for us to be the best we can.
I want to be the best Pastor that I can be. But that is very different to wanting to be the best Pastor. Wanting to be the best puts us in a competitive mode where in order for us to be the best we have to hope that others fail. But in order to be the best we can does not rely on anyone else failing – it doesn’t matter if you’re number one – you are simply being the best God has made you. The problem with needing to be the greatest is there is always someone behind you wanting to take your place. And that’s a problem that goes right back to Adam and Eve who were the best God had made them but were convinced by the Devil that God was holding back from them. Eat the forbidden fruit because God doesn’t want your eyes open. Eat the forbidden fruit and YOU will be like God. But they went from being in the image of God – to now competing with God himself. A sin which continues today and why Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart – and love your neighbour as yourself.
Greatness is outward looking – not inward focused So when Jesus gets wind that his disciples were secretly chatting amongst themselves he knew that there was something going on. What were you arguing about on the way?
They were caught out – embarrassed – and didn’t say a word. Much like Adam when he was caught out and hid from God.
Adam, wanting to be number one, blamed Eve instead of submitting to God and his mercy. But Jesus knew they had argued with one another who was the greatest. Notice they didn’t “discuss” with one another – they argued with one another. And that’s what needing to be number one does – instead of accepting what God has done for you.
And so, as Jesus always does, he teaches them about the Kingdom of Heaven which always turns things on their head. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all. Jesus is not suggesting that a person deliberately place themselves last in order to be first. But it is about allowing God to do his work in us and accepting that wherever God has placed us – whatever we have achieved in life – is God’s plan for us and therefore the best we can be. Remember what St Paul says in Ephesians chapter 2 – For we are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
God has our life mapped out for us and has prepared our future for us. We don’t want to be like Peter last week when he heard about Jesus’ plan could not accept it. He wanted to leap to the front and take charge to which Jesus said – get behind me Satan. Interesting that Jesus didn’t address Peter himself but Satan. Because he knew that Satan is the one who convinces us that our life can be better than what God has planned for us and we need to take control.
He did that to Adam and Eve – he did that to Peter. He tried it on Jesus tempting him to take control of his hunger – turn these rocks into bread. Tempting Jesus to make God prove his love – jump from this ledge and see if God will really catch you. Tempting Jesus to turn his back on God and worship the devil and he would receive all the kingdoms of the world.
Instead Jesus places before them a child. A vulnerable child who cannot fend for themselves but must rely on their parents to feed, clothe and protect them.
In these times the devil is also making us feel helpless. As if God has lost control. Despite the lockdowns, the vaccinations, the restrictions we keep seeing the numbers go up and up. What are we going to do??? Keep trusting in God. Keep praying to God. Do not lose hope. Do not give up ground and feel that we have to do this. James warns us that when we want to take control that it leads to conflict and we see that amongst our different states at Premiers who all want to blame each other. And collectively want to blame the Prime Minister.
James says – Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? Instead James says to stay firm in your faith and trust in God no matter how bad it seemingly gets. He says; Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. It is very tempting in times of uncertainty to want to take control rather than keep trusting God.
But that’s exactly what we are asked to do because fear makes us look away from God and to our own strength.
When the disciples feared and wanted to take control Jesus would say – why were you afraid. Like Peter when he could not control the wind and the waves and sank into the water. When the disciples thought they were going to drown and blamed Jesus – don’t you care that were’ going to drown, and then saw that even the wind and the waves must obey Jesus.
We too will come to the point and ask ourselves, why didn’t we trust God in this. He said he would walk with us and get us through this. So friends, let us stand firm in our faith. Let our faith be childlike that trusts in our Heavenly Father to provide for us all that we need. And like a frightened child runs to their parents who with a cuddle and reassuring word removes all their fear, let us also run to God’s embrace and his comforting word – “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. And, I am with you always till the end of the age when you will receive God’s Kingdom.